Book Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars
I’m a big fan of the lie of omission
Come home so I can kill you
I woke up early this morning with a start. The above phrases popped into my head (strange what a book can do to a supposedly normal human being). There was a task I had to complete from last night, finish reading the second half of Gone Girl without pause. And now that I have finished it, turns out it’s incredibly difficult to write this review without giving away any of the roller-coaster plot points.
There have been abominably few books in the recent past that have compelled me to write a review against the seemingly tidal force of my lethargy. Gone Girl was remarkably successful in this regard. I was typing this review within an hour of finishing the book, before my impressions wore off. The book put me on edge and writing my thoughts down was the fastest way to obtain closure.
I believe I possess a thick literary hide; few books have forced me to re-evaluate my worldview and fewer have made me rethink my understanding of interpersonal relationships, which while mostly complicated also have the capacity to be dangerously screwed up, as the myriad cases of spousal homicide would testify, if they could. This book disturbed me, in the truest sense of the word. It made me uneasy. It scared me. Can we every truly know the person we love? I found myself performing a double take at the fathomless complexity of human beings, the motivations behind their actions, and how the modern world and its institutions conform to a script that underplays this complexity and seeks to cage people into convenient categories: the Cheating Husband, the Cool Girl, the Doormat Wife, the Nice Guy.
Nick Dunne and Amy Elliot are probably the coolest couple in all of Manhattan; both of them are pretty young things in their early thirties who write for hep New York magazines. Their financial concerns are taken care of, thanks to the fantastic success of a teen book franchise called Amazing Amy, a fictional account of Amy’s childhood written by her parents. Everything seems to be going well for them until one fine day it’s not. They’ve run out of money, Amy’s money to be precise, they’ve lost their jobs in the 2008 recession that led to the ‘virtual’ demise of the print industry in America. They have to move back to Nick’s hometown on the banks of the Mississippi – North Carthage, Missouri – to take care of his ailing parents. Things start looking bleak. Nick buys a bar called The Bar with the last dregs of his wife’s trust fund and runs it with his twin sister, Margo, while Amy sits around at house apparently moping at the sudden downward lurch her life has taken. Until one day, on their fifth anniversary, she disappears leaving behind a few traces. All the clues point to Nick, the suspected wife-killer. A police investigation ensues followed by an elaborate media trial. But the truth lies somewhere else; it’s literally between the lines.
Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself, everybody else is taken”. But is that even possible today? In an America inundated by a flood of sappy movies, mediocre music, and risqué novels, the most prominent theme is the ruinous effect of pop culture on the authenticity of the individuality of any person in a giant intercontinental family where all are one and one are all. Everybody watches the same films, everybody enacts similar responses to stock situations, almost as if all their lives follow the same hackneyed script with minor variations, depending upon regional settings, probably a difference in the accent, probably one uses a sawed off shotgun instead of a butcher knife to murder his wife, but it’s still essentially the same script.
“It’s a very difficult era in which to be a person, just a real, actual person, instead of a collection of personality traits selected from an endless Automat of characters.”
It is this meta-quality, among other complimentary traits, which lends the novel its taut smartness and elevates it beyond the realm of a run-of-the-mill crime caper.
Nick is a former writer on pop culture for an entertainment magazine (again, very meta) while Amy has a degree in psychology which she utilizes to write those cheesy quizzes that appear in Cosmo: Are you way too picky when it comes to guys? How clingy are you? Amy and Nick connect on the basis of their shared love of movies and the fact that they can both quote lines verbatim from Annie Hall, among other unimportant reasons. When this facade falls apart after a couple of years, and both are forced to reconcile with their real selves, when all their witty retorts die out and the painful ordinariness of everyday life descends upon them, or as according to Amy when they ‘stop trying’; that’s when their marriage steadily goes downhill until one sunny morning after Amy has prepared a lovely warm breakfast of crepes, on the afternoon of their fifth wedding anniversary, she disappears with a few traces left behind: the scene of a struggle in the living room, a lot of mopped up blood on the kitchen floor. Fingers obviously point towards Nick. After all, if you’ve seen enough movies, you know it’s always the husband, right?
Through the usage of two contradictory unreliable narrators, the He-Said/She-Said device, Flynn establishes the unreliability of the narrators in general, and thus the narrative itself – the simplified prism through which we comprehend the world around us – for all narratives are required to emanate from a narrator. As a reader, one often ends up feeling like a marriage counsellor, listening patiently listening to both sides, aiming to merely understand and not to judge, trying desperately not to take sides. But we can’t help it, can we, but take sides, prefer one narrative over another? (I watched Life of Pi on the television a few days back and this happened to be Irffan Khan’s final argument to convince the writer about the existence of God: it is merely the better story, the more appealing narrative.)
I love unreliable narrators! I love waiting for all the lies to sort themselves out, I love feeling betrayed and outraged when a character reveals himself/herself as a thorough asshole who’s been playing me all along, it’s such a fun narrative device compared to the bland omniscient third person. The flipside is that with the unreliable narrator, the author bears less responsibility towards maintaining the consistency in the behaviour of characters across the book which can be off-putting; her only concern is keeping up a consistent plot. To that end, she does well. The plot is loaded with twists, most of which you never see coming and some of which may seem preposterous.
Also, if you strip away the disappearance and the police investigation, this right here is a tale of marriage gone horribly wrong with some poignant pessimistic reflections on what it means to be in a relationship. This is what lends the book its horrifying quality; fairly commonplace complaints with married life are taken to its extreme conclusion by a bunch of selfish characters. It’s disturbing sometimes to realize that ‘stuff that happens to others’ can just as easily happen to you.
“Unconditional love is an undisciplined love and, as we all have seen, undisciplined love is disastrous.”
Another theme is the post-feminist misogyny that pervades the book, misogyny that is tinged with an acute awareness of its political incorrectness: the unsympathetic portrayal of the shrill TV host who’s taken it as her sacred duty to crucify wife-killers, Nick’s dad, a classic MCP whose favourite phrases on loop are fuckingbitchfuckingbitch or dumbbitchdumbitchdumbbitch. In this book, women are either dumb doormats or manipulative, psycho bitches with the exception of Boney, the resourceful detective investigating Amy’s disappearance and Margo, who while playing the dutiful sister does ring an authentic bell.
This one would have kept me up all night if I hadn’t been so terribly sleep deprived. It is that kind of book, a page-turner with a TV show-like cliff-hanger at the end of every chapter to keep you hooked. The writing is energetic and fast-paced as the search for Amy takes on darker shades with every passing chapter. I had some issues with the ending (absolutely can’t talk about it) but in this case I’m willing to overlook the unsatisfactory destination for the great ride.
I’ve heard David Fincher’s 2014 movie release based on this book starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in the lead roles is going to feature an alternate ending. I’m fairly excited considering Fincher always does a great job. Read this book right now at your leisure unless you want to finish it in a hurry later, as I’m sure you’ll want to just before the movie releases in October.
Watch the movie trailer here: